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Dan England | September 16, 2015

Reborn, on the Run

In Ultrarunning, addicts find a place where they belong

Reborn, on the Run

In Ultrarunning, addicts find a place where they belong

by Dan England

When the sun looms over the Harvey Bear Ranch Park trailhead, the San Martin, California park, like much of the parched state, takes on the crispy brown color of a bowl of Golden Grahams. But early on a Saturday morning, the sun is resting, and Harvey Bear looks, and feels, more like a nightclub.

Headlamps bounce against the dark, and laughter bursts out from a tent containing a swarm of runners and a buffet of potato chips, energy bars, crackers with Nutella and cups of Coca-Cola. It’s chilly near the start of the Run-de-Vous, one of the hundreds of ultrarunning races that take place every year, but seven volunteers are working like the dwarves pounding packs of ice on the pavement and shuffling the broken cubes and sponges into buckets of water. They know what’s coming.

“Good morning!” the runners chirp at each other, like morning cardinals, and leading the way is Catra Corbett, who punctuates her greetings with hugs. Corbett, 50, looks dressed for the nightclub, with arm warmers in rainbow stripes, a matching skirt checkered with neon pink, yellow and purple and a silver and blue tank top with Hoka One One across the front, one of her many sponsors. It’s too early for the rays of energy Corbett’s giving off, but as first light cracks the night sky and the runners start to gather under race director Rajeev Patel, who is standing on a small ladder, Corbett’s mood is brighter than her headlamp. She’s practically giddy.

“It’s very unusual that I get to have fun in a race,” Corbett said.

“Fun,” for Corbett, means she’s only running a 50K, 31 miles. Yes, this woman is treating a race that’s five miles longer than a marathon like a casual jog with her dog. But for her, that’s exactly what it is. Corbett is a little hobbled after a 100-mile race a week ago blistered the pads of her near bulletproof feet (she has an especially gruesome story about her big toe exploding after she trimmed the nail). So she decided to make this day about Truman, who will strive as much as his tiny legs can to become the first dachshund, as far as anyone knows, to run a 50K. Catra’s there to pace him. Normally, he paces her for a good chunk of one of her long runs, which is why Truman’s attempt isn’t nearly as abusive as it sounds. Truman ran 1,300 miles in 2014. As dachshunds go, Truman, with white, lightning slashes against a thunderstorm-gray coat, is a badass.

More than 20 years ago, Corbett would have felt more at home in a nightclub than on a trail. Fun for her then meant dancing for hours a night, high on meth and cloaked in black clothes and white makeup, like a vampire. Now she looks like a punk rock fairy, a colorful sprite known for her spirit and enthusiasm.

People have been known to look at the flashy colors and the 50 tattoos and the 25 piercings and the fuchsia and purple hair, which hasn’t been its original dark brown since she was 13, and assume she’s the nightclubbing hairdresser of her old days. Far from it.

She runs at least 80 miles a week, eats 12 pounds of fruit a day with some veggies and nuts on the weekend, and has run every day for more than 1,000 days in a row. Corbett is only one of five people in the world to finish a hundred 100-mile runs (she’s done 116), and only the second woman to do so (Monica Scholz, a Canadian, is the other). This year alone she’s done three 100-mile races and a 200-miler as well. Next year, she hopes to finish the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in less than 100 days, an average of 25 miles a day. As if that isn’t enough of a challenge, during the trip, she plans to run additional ultras, until she’s also collected a 100-miler, a 50-miler and a 50K.

Running 100 miles requires a disturbing tolerance for suffering. She ran her first in Texas in 1999 without knowing that she needed to wear roomy shoes to account for her swelling feet, blistering her heels so much that a medic asked her if she planned to finish. She’s peed blood from severe dehydration more than once. The predictable misery of an unpredictable event such as a 100-miler is why she wears such bright colors. Pink is positive, she said. It lights the way like a headlamp through the inevitable dark moments of an ultramarathon.

Yet her worst night didn’t come on a course. That came before all this, in jail, when she was arrested for selling meth. That night was the “ah-ha” moment just about every addict needs to quit. Just like a number of other ultrarunners in the sport today, she found running to help her stay sober. Ultrarunning has consumed her life for 16 years, made her a social media star and, as Patel calls her, one of the icons of the sport.

Maybe that is why she feels most bonded to Truman among all the dachshunds she has owned, she said, because he was reborn through running as well. Three years ago Corbett was still mourning her dachshund, Rocky, who had died a few months before, when she received Truman, who grew up with a hoarder. She initially planned to foster him, not adopt him. He seemed to need her, and she needed him, too. The vet, given his tough situation, told her that because of his past, he would always be kind of broken. Rather than believe that, Corbett chose to bring him to Mission Peak. She set him on the ground and began to run. He began to follow her. He has since raced up it 100 times.

Every run is a nod to their rebirth. This Aug. 15 weekend, Truman and Corbett planned to celebrate together.

Addicted To Run

Corbett suggests that 50 percent of ultrarunners, at least the ones she knows, are ex-addicts of one kind or another. While that number is impossible to verify, and honestly seems a little high, ultrarunners agree that addiction fits with its extreme nature.

“You do have to have an obsessive personality to do this sport,” said George Velasco, who has run many races, crewed many others, and was running a 50-miler at Run-de-Vous.

Obsessive? Only at an ultra such as Run-De-Vous would you hear ridiculous statements such as “I’m out of shape, so I’m only doing a 50K today.” Patel, the race director who writes a blog as Rajeev the Runner, just went through a flare-up of his Crohn’s Disease, and yet even as he winced in pain, he talked about running 100 miles again one day. Velasco himself carries a stuffed Curious George in the front of his pack because he considers his addiction to ultrarunning, which has trashed his right leg, a monkey on his back.

Charlie Engle, one of the sport’s most well-known extremists, was a crack junkie who spent time in prison. Timothy Olson, who holds the course record to the Western States 100, one of ultrarunning’s most prestigious events, was a drug addict. Ben Hian, way back in the 1990s, possibly pioneered recovering from drugs through ultrarunning and won several 100-mile races. There are many others.

Bryon Powell, editor of the popular ultrarunning website iRunFar, said he gets a little weary, and wary, of pronouncements that anyone who runs an ultramarathon must either be recovering or addicted to the sport or both.

“I swear there really are normal people who do these things,” Powell said with a laugh. “Honest.”

Look at Mike Palmer, 61. He is a quiet administrative assistant at the University of California, Berkeley, and his story sounds like the millions you hear from road marathoners. He was in his 30s and realized simple things, like walking a flight of stairs left him exhausted. He remembered running cross-country in high school and started again, then did a marathon, and then another fast enough to qualify for Boston. He decided to take it further after hearing unassuming ultrarunning pioneer Dick Collins, who once ran an ultra a month for 12 years, say running a 50-miler, with its relaxed people and pace and beautiful scenery, was easier than running a marathon. Palmer has since completed 26 trail 100s. He runs for a reason that has nothing to do with any kind of personal demon.

“Let’s be honest. It’s a source of pride,” Palmer said.

But Powell also acknowledges that there are many others who need to run, and, just like his site says, run far. Rob Krar, one of the best, suffers from severe depression. Running helps him control it. Angie White is director of the Kentucky Animal Relief Fund, a rescue that exclusively takes in senior dogs, and she deals with wretched stories of mistreatment nearly every day. She runs to work off her trauma from the worst cases, and the Run-de-Vous is her fifth attempt at a 100-miler. Scientists are even studying running as a way to help calm post-traumatic stress disorder.

Powell is quiet and feeds off Corbett’s energy and her propensity for filling dead space with an endless stream of chatter. So, in a way, the sport’s ability to snag quirky folks may also be part of the allure of ultrarunning for people such as Powell. Running for hours, he meets people who are otherwise nothing like him.

“You know, I tend to think things through, like forever, and she’s very impulsive,” Powell said with a smile. “It balances me out.”

One Night in Jail

One day in the early 1990’s in Fremont, California, where she grew up, Corbett took a call for her boyfriend, a small-time dealer who sold just enough meth to keep their personal supply going. Soon after, just like a scene from “COPS,” the police came busting down their door. It was the best thing that happened to her, she said.

While working at a salon during the day and clubbing on most nights, she had started snorting meth at the behest of her friends and kept at it until some days she drove for hours trying to score. She surrendered to the drug for three years, even using after her boyfriend tried to quit, and she remembers being in her room one day and thinking how her life kind of sucked but that she was powerless to do anything about it. She thinks she was about 27, maybe 29. She isn’t quite sure.

“I just don’t remember those years that closely,” she says now.

After her arrest, she was thrown in the women’s jail with everyone else, the grandmothers and the gangsters. She was barely a woman, a girl, really, and was appalled at the ugly holding pen and scrubs, the disgusting room, and the icky, itchy, gray wool blanket they gave her. She wondered how she was going to wash her face. She realized with horror that she had cut the hair of the guy who took her mug shot.

I don’t belong here, she said aloud, to anyone who would listen, thinking of the cop who arrested her and then lied, promising her own cell.

Her boyfriend accepted the blame, and the judge, taking her job and first offense into account, let her go through diversion. She called her mother and told her about her addiction. Her mom, Corbett’s only parent after her father died when she was 17, angrily reminded her that her sister, who was bipolar, had become a heroin addict.

Her friends wondered when she was going to do drugs again, but that didn’t sound fun anymore. I don’t belong here, she thought again.

She moved away from her friends, and her old life, and decided to get a job at Whole Foods, more for the discount on produce than a paycheck. She’s still there, and has been there 16 years, now as a supervisor in the nutrition and body care department.

Corbett was already a vegetarian, something she had practiced since she was 9, when her brother informed her that her beloved bull, Charlie, was now in the freezer. Getting healthy, she said, wasn’t that far-fetched.

She went to the gym, mainly because it gave her a way to fill her life and burn off her excess energy since she wasn’t clubbing anymore. She started walking her dog three miles a day, and two years after she got clean, she decided to run the distance she usually walked.

Running was unusual for Corbett, despite her dad’s love for the sport of running: they used to watch the Boston Marathon on TV together. She finished the three miles and was proud of herself, so she looked for a 10K to run because her father loved that distance, and she wanted to honor him after his death from an unexpected heart attack at 49. Corbett, now older than her father, still misses her parents. Her mother died in 2002, and she still cries at their graves.

The 10K was tough — she wore black and ran too hard — but afterwards saw a flyer for the San Francisco marathon on her windshield. She entered and bought a book to learn how to train for it. Her first long run was supposed to be nine miles, so she drove the distance to measure it. When she finished, she was thrilled.

At the marathon, some athletic friends told her to bring a nutritional gel because she would hit a wall at mile 22. She took the gel at mile 22 and looked for a wall to appear. She never found it and finished with a solid time, a little over four hours.

, After planning to complete all the marathons in California, learned that a 50K was only six miles longer, and was introduced to trail running in her first race of that distance. She did a 50-miler that same month and her first 100-miler, the Rocky Raccoon in 1999, a couple months later.

There are many tricks to an ultramarathon that make it possible, or easier, depending on a runner’s ability. Many change their shoes several times, use duct tape to cover their blisters and eat candy, such as Kit Kat chocolate bars, before a tough climb. But Catra had no way of knowing any of those tricks at first, and there were few ways to connect with other runners before social media made it easy. These days, even someone who wants to learn how to run a 5K can download a “Couch to 5K” training plan app.

“Fuck, I knew nothing, and there was nowhere I could go for any help,” she said.

She made many mistakes, but she also fell in love.

She sticks to the ultras now because she loves running through the mountains and on trails, not on the asphalt and concrete courses of big-city marathons. And she’s found a way to stand out because Corbett does like to stand out. And not only because of the tattoos and attire.

She will wear nice clothes to work, skirts and dresses mostly, but they resemble her ultrarunning outfits in that they are usually bright and flashy, topped with a huge pink bow in her wild, curly hair. She added many of the tattoos after she got clean, and she’s thankful for that, given that she prefers pretty or childlike, almost innocent art, to the skulls and black roses she surely would have added during her goth period. A favorite tat is of Max, the character from Where the Wild Things Are, because she used to carry a stuffed toy of him in her backpack and lost it during a race. She wants a Hello Kitty making a peace sign for her next one.

“When you’re out there, on the trail, you realize how much stuff you don’t really need”—Catra Corbett

Ultrarunning helps Corbett stand out in the running world because, well, she isn’t very fast, and the sport tends to reward the turtles, not the rabbits, save for the very few elites capable of winning a race. If she ran marathons, no one would probably notice her, even in her attire. Her best time in a 100-miler is a little more than 21 hours, averaging just over 5 mph, solid but unspectacular. Corbett, though, just keeps going and going, and she recovers quickly, giving her the two tools ultrarunners need to pile up the accomplishments that make her special. She holds the women’s record for completing the John Muir Trail twice, out and back, consecutively, for a total of 424 miles (she did it in 12 days). As it turns out, she figures dancing the night away and then cutting hair on her feet all day was a great way to prepare for the rigors of an ultra.

Today Corbett lives a stripped-down life, renting a room for the last five years from a grizzled ultrarunner she met while trudging her way up Mission Peak. She would like a house and hopes to move soon, but she also doesn’t really crave anything material save for more Hoka One One shoes and another cute outfit from Running Skirts, another one of her sponsors. Corbett just got a raise from Whole Foods, and her sponsors pay for gear, supplies, and an occasional race, but she can’t afford too much more in California than a spare room.

“When you’re out there, on the trail,” Corbett said, “you realize how much stuff you don’t really need.”

During Corbett’s annual review a month ago, her Whole Foods supervisor told her she was doing well, and her only complaint was that she wished Corbett worked more. Corbett asks for lots of three-day weekends so she can race. Ultrarunning is her life. She’s dating an ultrarunner, and has an ex-boyfriend who was an ultrarunner, and most of her friends are ultrarunners. Truman, her dog, is an ultrarunner. She’s happiest out there trotting on the trail with Truman and thinking how much her life has changed since she stopped doing drugs.

“I’m just thankful I’m not in that situation any longer,” Corbett said. “But I have no regrets. If I hadn’t gone through that, I would not be out here running because I needed to get healthy after all the drugs. I hated running. It’s because of that former life that made me want to have the life I have now.”

A Fair Trade?

The rapper Eminem, whose “Lose Yourself” was recently voted as the most popular running song in a Runner’s World poll, claims he ran 17 miles a day on the treadmill to beat an addiction to alcohol and painkillers, stating that his “addict’s brain” led him to get carried away with running.

“It’s easy to understand how people replace addiction with exercise,” Eminem said recently in an article for Men’s Journal. “One addiction for another, but one that’s good for them.”

Actually, many who treat addiction say Eminem is wrong, even those who emphasize exercise and sports to help others recover. Trading addictions, which is what many assume addicts do when they turn to ultrarunning or other extreme sports, does not ensure sobriety.

“It’s easy to understand how people replace addiction with exercise. One addiction for another, but one that’s good for them”—Eminem

Todd Crandell, the founder of Racing For Recovery, an organization that promotes a healthy lifestyle and fitness to help addicts overcome substance abuse, started his nonprofit in 2001 after getting sober in 1993. Although Crandell is proud of his many accomplishments, including finishing more than 20 Ironman races, recovery, Crandell said, takes love and family and support and self-esteem. For many, it may even require belief in a higher power and a 12-step program. It requires a lifetime of work, a race that never ends.

“Even some of my own clients went back to using because they really didn’t change their lives,” Crandell said. “If they’re out riding their bikes for six hours and still missing out on life and family things, then you’re not really recovering.”

There is no doubt completing a race is a powerful drug in its own right. David Clark, a 44-year-old from Louisville, Colorado, once weighed more than 300 pounds, chugged a bottle of scotch a day and gobbled fast food and handfuls of painkillers. He now weighs 160 pounds, eats a vegan diet and has completed 29 ultramarathons. He also owns his own gym, Snap Fitness.

“You put yourself in this tough situation, and you tell yourself that you trust yourself and you won’t quit,” Clark said of ultrarunning. “For an addict, that’s an amazing thing.”

He believes in that power, and that’s why in 2011 he started the Superman project, which helps addicts reinvent themselves as athletes. When Clark was an addict, he couldn’t trust himself to quit drinking long enough to wrap his kids’ Christmas presents. Now he can rely on his internal strength to get him through Badwater, a 135-mile trudge through Death Valley, the hottest corner of the U.S.

David McNew/Getty Images
Above: A runner attempts the Badwater ultramarathon

Even Clark admits that his training can sometimes resemble his old habits, and his comment offers some insight into the attraction addicts feel toward ultrarunning.

“I have definitely been an extreme person,” Clark said. “I think when you are so extreme on the negative side, you almost have to do extremes in the positive side to balance that out.”

Yet many ultrarunners, especially the old-school veterans, have probably taken it too far, Corbett said. Velasco needs to get his leg fixed — “everything” is wrong with it, he said — but he doesn’t want to take the six months off to recover. Corbett knows of many others whose bodies are now broken in one way or another because they raced too much. Corbett herself hasn’t been hurt despite all those races, and she attributes that to strength training, her fruitarian diet and refusal to overtrain. Ultrarunning may be her life, but she does not consider it an addiction.

Clark knows the warning signs from his past life. He now looks at recovery and running independently. Running is wonderful, he said, but it’s not sobriety.

“Running interrupted the daily process of using,” Clark said, “and then it made me feel better and cleared the space to go through the spiritual work.

“The thing is, you can’t help but feel lucky when you make it out. Most people don’t.”

Come Together

Addicts who want to get sober have to give up much more than the drug itself. As Corbett did, most have to say goodbye to their friends and change their life. For many, part of the attraction to ultrarunning is the family and support they find in the ultrarunning community.

A big ultrarunning race usually includes only a few hundred participants, so they all tend to know each other, which is impossible in a race of 20,000 half-marathoners. There’s something about that smaller group, and the fact that they’re all punch-drunk, puking, and in pain, that makes participants feel like they’re all in this together.

“If you’re a dick, they will judge you, but it’s not about what you are or what you’re wearing. It’s a community that welcomes you with open arms”—Bryon Powell

In most races, ultrarunners need the support of a crew to fix them meals, watch over their shoes (an ultrarunner will go through several pairs in a race) and doctor their dirty feet. The crews are generally made up of other runners, who will also pace their racer in the last half, when they are typically tired, thirsty and as irritable, as a 2-year-old toddler. It’s a supportive, even loving place, exactly the kind of fellowship an addict needs to beat drugs. That may be as much of an attraction as the physical activity.

You can’t find that feel at every race. There are signs that the old-school group led by veterans such as Velasco and Palmer and Corbett are being overrun in the larger events by younger, uptight athletes coming off a background in Ironman competitions and road marathons.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this comes from the Leadville 100, one of the first and most iconic 100-mile trail runs in Colorado. More than 900 runners crowded the trail in 2013, and this year, more than 750 ran. Some in that race didn’t seem to understand the unspoken rules of the trail. There seems to be more of those people all the time.

“I was dismayed to see all the gel packets all over the trail at Angeles Crest,” Palmer said about this year’s race.

Yet there is still a different feel at ultramarathons, said Powell of iRunFar. When he ran his Hardrock race this year, he knew most of the 150 people running it with him.

At this year’s Western States 100, one of the more prestigious events, 70-year-old Gunhild Swanson was minutes from the cutoff time and less than a mile from the finish. Krar, a 100-mile win already in his legs, nevertheless ran with her the last 1.3 in flip-flops to push her to the end. She finished with six seconds to spare.

“You may not know the guy on your left is a PhD, and the guy on your right is a recovering alcoholic because honestly, you don’t care,” Powell said. “If you’re a dick, they will judge you, but it’s not about what you are or what you’re wearing. It’s a community that welcomes you with open arms.”

The Spirit Of Ultrarunning

The sun needed a little time to warm up, like an old car, but around 10 a.m., it had revved up and spread its rays across Harvey Bear at the Run-de-Vous, heating the two-mile strip of asphalt like a Hibachi grill and threatening to turn Truman into a smoked sausage. Patel, the race director, camped out at the timing mat in a chair, by a monitor that listed the runners’ times and the number of laps they had completed.

If most ultra marathons are run on trails, through forests or up mountains, the Run-de-Vous is, by comparison, a hamster’s wheel. To finish a 50K, a runner (or a badass dachshund), needed to complete a little more than 15 laps. It’s still a nice trail, but running the same loop over and over can be tough.

“Well done,” Patel said to each runner as he or she scuffled across the mat for another lap.

When Truman trotted up with Corbett, a few of the 50 volunteers, crew members and spectators cheered, mostly for Truman. Corbett, planning to pull her dog from the race by noon, paused for a selfie with him.

Not everyone likes the tattoos and the selfies and pink hair, which Corbett acknowledges.

“There’s some narcissism there,” Velasco noted with a smile.

Most ultrarunners, however, even the grizzled veterans, are willing to tolerate, or even embrace that flashy image because of what Corbett does for the sport. Her vanity, for instance, helps promote it.

She’s got deals with Ultra Gam Gaiters, Nuya Nutrition, Jem Raw Organics, Garden of Life and Beyond Meat from her numbers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and her blog, Dirt Diva. She may even be a trendsetter. When Corbett signed with Hoka One One in 2010, she didn’t like the plain white women’s shoes and spray painted them. Hoka got dozens of calls the next day from other runners who said they all wanted the shoes in the colors that Corbett was wearing. Now many running shoes, clothes and gear are draped in bright colors.

Corbett - and Truman - are two of the most popular ultrarunners in the sport. She’s managed to reach that stature without dominating races like other well-known, champion ultrarunners such as Anna Frost, who won this year’s insanely difficult Hardrock 100, Krar or Kilian Jornet, known for smashing speed records up huge mountains and holder of course records in many races, including the Hardrock.

“The world needs a figure like her,” said Velasco, who is one of Corbett’s closest friends, as he worked on another lap. “She gets a lot of people who normally wouldn’t be out here to do something like this.”

And as self-serving as Corbett appears to be, she personally does as much for the ultrarunning community as anyone. Corbett encourages anyone who passes her and has stopped many times in a 100-mile race to offer advice, or even care for, those runners who aren’t looking good (relatively, anyway), with little regard for her own time or her own misery. She crews and paces for many others, and that can take a full weekend, either running 50 miles with a hurting, cranky, sleep-deprived racer or sleeping in a van in 15-minute increments between filling bottles and making snacks. After she ran her 200-mile race, a race that took everything she had just to finish, a few days later she was out marking and setting the course for a local 50K. Corbett also lobbies Whole Foods to donate food and supplies for races.

“That’s the spirit of ultrarunning,” Patel said. “It’s not about herself. It’s really not. It’s about the community.”

“Why can’t we have that in real life? Why can’t we have aid stations, where everyone knows you and cheers for you?”—Mike Palmer

White, who runs the senior dog rescue in Kentucky, turned to Corbett after attempting, and failing, four other 100-mile races. Corbett agreed to coach her and used Truman to raise money for her program. Corbett’s many followers online responded by donating more than $1,200.

“She’s one of my life heroes,” White said. “I only had to ask once.”

Addicts use support groups, churches, AA meetings, sponsors and outpatient counseling to overcome addiction, with mixed results. Ultrarunning gives Corbett, and many like her, a place to go. It feels like home, said Palmer, another close friend of Corbett despite having nothing in common with her other than running.

“You’re in another world when you’re out here,” Palmer said. “I mean, why can’t we have that in real life? Why can’t we have aid stations, where everyone knows you and cheers for you?”

He sighs.

“Instead, it’s ‘You know, you really need to work on this.’”

Frozen treats and fun with friends

By 2 p.m., the temperature spiked to 100 degrees, and all the ice the volunteers worked so hard to chop had melted. There were only the ultrarunners, those who supported them, and the determination to go another lap.

The few runners still going for 50 or 100 miles — many of them by this point had dropped down a distance — were walking, usually with towels soaked with cold water wrapped around their heads. Only White, who trained in the Kentucky humidity, and Ed Ettinghausen, who grew up in steamy Temecula, California, owns the record for running the most 100-milers in a year and likes to wear a Jester’s costume for all his races, were still running.

And then Patel, grinning madly, waved a Popsicle in front of a participant’s face. When the limping, sweaty walker realized it wasn’t a hallucination, he almost started weeping.

“Oh, my God, man,” he said. “Wow. Thanks.”

The popsicles were presents from three different ultrarunners, all who arrived within a half-hour of each other and knew exactly what the others craved.

“Awesome, guys,” Patel told the runners. “Un-fricken-believable man.”

Velasco pauses by Corbett’s chair for a break between laps for his 50-miler. Corbett, after 22 miles, had pulled Truman from the trail and was waiting for dusk to run again. She was antsy, though, and struggling with just sitting around at a race. She decided to crew Velasco a bit.

“Where are your shoes? Why are you taking off that shirt? Why aren’t you sitting down? What are you eating? What are you drinking?” Corbett started chirping. “Sit. Sit. Sit!”

“Catra,” Velasco said with exhaustion, not necessarily from the race. “Relax.”

Still, Velasco did indeed sit, and Powell, Velasco and Corbett began talking about what they usually talk about when they’re together. They talked about their peeps and past races. They laughed about the time Velasco shit his pants running up Mount Whitney, and their aches and pains, and sun poisoning and crewing bitchy runners.

Then Velasco left to do another lap and caught up to White, who was still trotting along.

Corbett stayed behind. The temperature peaked at 101, but by 6:30 p.m., it started to cool a bit. She would bring Truman back out, and as the sun began to set, he would finish his 50K. The next day, just before the 32-hour cutoff, White would finish her first 100 with Corbett by her side.

It was the least she could do. Corbett has her own pacers. When she’s struggling, as she did the week before to finish her 100, she thinks about her parents, or past dogs, running with her. But she also thinks of so many other ultrarunners who had to give it up. They are all still part of the community too.

“There are others who would give anything to still be able to do this,” Corbett said. “That’s how I make myself finish.”

That’s also why she wants it to last, and that means she needs to do her part to support it. The sun fell behind the hills, cloaking Harvey Bear’s crispy brown with darkness, and with the laughter and the twinkling headlamps, it once again looked like a nightclub, the kind that used to keep Corbett up late at night.

Corbett, still wearing the checkered skirt and pulling up her neon arm warmers, planned to stay up late, as she has many times before in both her former and current lives.

This time, in this life, she worked the aid station deep into the night, ending her fun, relaxed day serving Coca-Cola, hugs and cheers as the moon shined its light over her family and the place they all belong.

About the Author

Dan England is the Adventure and Entertainment Editor for the Greeley Tribune, a position he's held for nearly 15 years, and a freelance writer. He has three young children, including twin girls, and a wife who puts up with all his running and mountaineering. He's also climbed all the 14ers in Colorado, though not in 10 days. He's also finished two obstacles races, including the Super Spartan in Vegas. Amelia Boone beat his time by an hour. Follow him on Twitter at @DanEngland.